US president Donald Trump has outlined plans to privatise the US air traffic control system to modernise and lower costs.
Trump claimed in a letter to the US Congress that air-traffic controllers are “using 1960s technology and operating in outdated facilities” that limit the system’s efficiency. “Our nation’s air traffic is only going to increase, and today’s ATC system simply will not be able to handle the volume that is expected over the next two decades,” wrote Trump. “Without immediate attention to comprehensive ATC reform, aviation congestion and delays – which already costs the United States economy more than US$25 billion per year – will worsen and our economy will further suffer.”
Trump claimed that all nations other than the US and France “have separated their ATC functions from government.”
“By taking that critical step, those countries have accelerated modernisation, maintained or improved safety, and lowered operating costs,” according to Trump, who blamed “political interference, budget uncertainty, and a bureaucratic government procurement system” for impeding the FAA’s modernisation efforts. These are rooted in the agency’s multibillion-dollar NextGen initiative, which is currently behind schedule and over budget.
Under the Trump plan, the FAA’s role in air-traffic control would be reduced to monitoring the system’s safety. The other principles cited by the administration for moving the ATC to a private operator are national security, cybersecurity, and open access to airspace.
If approved by Congress, the transition from FAA operation to the private sector would take at least three years to accomplish. The Trump plan calls for a not-for-profit entity to be created to operate the ATC system — one fully funded by user fees charged to air travellers. The plan calls for current union contracts to be honoured and for airlines, airports, general aviation, and unions to be represented on the new entity’s governing board.
The National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA), which represents unionised air-traffic controllers, acknowledged the need for reforming the current system but also opposes any attempt to transfer ATC responsibilities to a for-profit operator.
“NATCA shares the administration’s commitments to infrastructure modernisation and providing the National Airspace System with a stable, predictable funding stream,” said president Paul Rinaldi.
“We look forward to reviewing the specifics of the air traffic control reform legislation so we can evaluate whether it satisfies our union’s principles, including protecting the rights and benefits of the ATC workforce.”